Lady Gaga - The Fame
It doesn't, sad to say, tickle the zeitgeist. Which is, of course, just another way of saying : expectations set far too high. Again. Lady Gaga's much trumpeted debut album, for a large part likeable, beautifully executed electronica, is that and just that. Don't think for a minute that just because the lady appears to have some semblance of savvy and character that she's peddling some whipsmart, cynical treatise on the modern media-sapped world and its obsession with celebrity skin and intrusion-as-pleb-fodder. Nope. At best, sure, 'The Fame' delivers pockets of wonderfully kinetic pop thrills, tunes that, in terms of production, vocals, hook, deliver in spades, no doubt. At worst, well, it gets a bit lumpen and you find yourself skipping tracks. It has to be said : anyone who thinks a 16 track debut, when they’re barely into their twenties, is a good idea better have the goods to match the hubris.
So, Joanne Stefani Germanotta, let’s be ‘avin you. Kudos for the name change and getting kicked off Def Jam after a few weeks at the age of 19 and all that. But signing to bleedin' Akon's label and writing for Pussycat Dolls and Britney really isn't setting my Cool Boat afloat. Touring with New Kids on the Block ? Mmm. Methinks I smell The Machine. And that irritates me from the off because I really, really want to like you; you strike me as worth pinning a few hopes on. What really sticks in the craw, though, is the over-developed sense of self-importance so early on. Get this : "The Fame is about how anyone can feel famous. Pop culture is art ... it’s a sharable fame. I want to invite you all to the party. I want people to feel a part of this lifestyle." Yeah, well I want people to be able to get their tenner's worth minus reference to the kind of twaddle only the massively over-indulged have the gall to spout, young lady. Come on, girl ! Let's laser through the crap. No-one's denying you've made a half decent record, and the highs really are worth savoring - the Korg swirl of 'Just Dance' is a thrill, 'Paparazzi' has simply the prettiest chorus you'll hear this year, 'Pokerface' is 'Ray of Light' era Madonna. The eventual and absolute change of style and pace on the piano ballad 'Brown Eyes' works well and album closer 'Again Again', a grinding blues rock out also finds a corner where it fits. But it's the filler that strangles the whole affair and, as I say, at 16 tracks, it's no surprise. What did they used to say - every double album has a really good single album in there somewhere ? Same here. 'Paper Gangsta' is as limp as they come, 'Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)' dabbles in light reggae and comes off reminding me of Peter Andre, and 'Boys Boys Boys' isn't the Sabrina classic but it's not far off.
Despite delusions of grandeur, 'The Fame' positions itself next to the warmer beats of Kylie's 'Fever' or Annie's redoubtable 'Anniemal'. At times you’re reminded of Madonna in that bristling mid-career phase that began with ‘Like a Prayer’ and ended with ‘Ray of Light’ (possibly ‘Music’, if I’m in a good mood), you know, once she’d realised we’d tired of her knockers but just before she got all ‘artistic’ on us. If you really want to take the cultural temperature, though, just see what 'The Fame' will have to deal with if it wants to pay its way. Apart from the impressively schizophrenic Girls Aloud effort (that deservedly continues to sell by the bucket load), the current album top 10 is as dull and worthy as you like, with earnest strummers such as The Script and the embarrassingly lauded Kings of Leon (the knobhead's choice of bought-in cred) taking top honours this week/month/year. Which could make for trouble if Lady Gaga wants to do, say, a Rihanna and sell billions to people who buy CDs to accompany their pizza. (My guess : right now, what people don't want is Madonna with more dance beats. Too cool for the Leona fans, too mainstream for your MGMT lot, 'The Fame' falls between at least two stools. Cue six, rather than seven, figure sales. Hey, check back come year end - betcha I'm right.)
What further disappoints is that for such a supposedly independent spirit, Lady Gaga has precious little to say beyond 'Hey - isn't fame a bit weird ?', 'Relationships can be tricky' and 'Dancing and drinking are a good laugh.' (The latter, to be serious for a moment, is just as worthy of exploration as anything more thoughtful. Certainly I'm in awe of 'Just Dance''s killer line : "I love this record, baby/But I can't see straight anymore.") That said, I can’t leave without saying how much I love the voice – it’s got that ‘I can only just sing but hey doesn’t it sound great, actually ?’ quality that I really do love. A bit of grain and not too many of those pesky notes. (I mean, who really needs that second octave ?)
Another point worth pondering - you don't get any real sense of this being a New York Album. For someone who allegedly holds such sway in the NYC scene, 'The Fame' is couched in Euro-pop dance floor styling that could just as easily have been constructed in the UK or Scandinavia. The only Studio 54 connection I can see here is maybe the number of bloody things employed to piece the damn thing together. The fact that ultimately 'The Fame' doesn't convey much sense of world outside of its own manufacture - it's heavy with labour rather than sleekly efficient - and doesn't appear to repay repeated listens (I hammered it for a few days and since then I've not been back) ... well, maybe that's my fault as much as hers. Maybe expectations, once again, were just too high ? Hype begets hype to an exponential degree but you don’t need me to tell you that's where we live these days. Shame, but move on eh ? The next Big Pop Thrill lies elsewhere.